Proposal to create unique, aerial attraction on riverfront poses concerns

Published: Jun. 4, 2014 at 2:47 AM CDT
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Olexandr Zonotopov is a developer, originally from Ukraine, but has been in New Orleans for the past five years. He wants to create something different along the riverfront. He calls it a family attraction and he believes it will boost tourism.

"Basically what it is, is a helium balloon and tied to a pier. It's basically supposed to take people on board and bring them up to 500 feet and provide visitors a view of New Orleans," says Zonotopov.

The proposed project includes a pier on the Mississippi River with an air helium balloon that would be anchored to the platform.

"You'd be able to buy the ticket to use the ride and we'll have a few tables where you'll be able to enjoy a beverage and a cold snack," says Zonotopov.

It would be called, 'Vanilla Sky Café' and would be located just in front of Jackson Square in the Mississippi River.

Zontopov, though, has a long way to go before his project becomes a reality.

He's now trying to acquire a permit through the Army Corps of Engineers, but Meg Lousteau with the Vieux Carre Commission says there are some concerns.

"We're very concerned both from a maritime perspective because this is such a serious bend in the river and also because of the potential visual impact on Jackson Square, which is our most iconic space and the possibility of a helium balloon looming over it and obstructing the views of everyone enjoying that 19th century space ,"says Lousteau.

Lousteau says she found out about the project Tuesday morning and she worries that time is running out to offer public comments to the Corps.

"The Army Corps is the first step here and the comment period closes next Thursday," says Lousteau.

The Port of New Orleans has already objected to the granting of a permit to the company citing the structure and its operations would interfere with both deep draft and shallow draft navigation on the river.

The developer disagrees and believes the project will only enhance the riverfront.

"We are open to every negotiation. If we have to comply with some restrictions, we will. That's not a problem," says Zonotopov.

The Army Corps says it's still in the public comment phase of the permitting process. People will be able to comment until June 11.

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